“Imagining our New Normal?”

“Behold I make all things new!” – Revelation 21:5

Twenty years ago my life changed forever in an instant when I flew over the handlebars of my bicycle and landed on my head. Like Humpty Dumpty I “couldn’t be put back together again.” The name for my new situation is traumatic brain injury (TBI), the injury so many of our troops return with from war.

Everyone’s TBI is different. In the Brain Injury community, we say, “If you’ve seen one TBI you’ve seen one TBI.”  Still, all TBIs share the family traits of neurological deficits and behavioral changes that are challenging for both the one who has them and for the loved ones who must deal with them.

As I was trying to stay afloat in these new uncharted waters, my thoughtful neuropsychologist, Sarah, threw me a lifeline with the term “new normal.” She said, “Don’t compare how you are today with how you were before the accident. Compare how you are today with how you were after the accident.  That’s your new normal.”

One of my disabilities is an impaired “executive function,” the part of the brain that allows one to multi-task. Sarah told me, “Before your accident you could probably cook dinner, talk to your wife, and listen to NPR all at the same time. Now pick one.” So I have learned how to do one thing at a time. Sometimes I get very frustrated by this, especially if I compare myself to before my injury, but measured by my new normal, I can see improvement.

This idea of new normal has been so helpful to me that I have begun to think about it as a metaphor for the life of faith. Since my injury I have been paying attention to the word “new” wherever I come across it in our faith.  Scripture is full of it: the Revelation passage above is just one of countless verses where “God is doing a new thing.”

And our hymnody is also full of allusions to the new: “morning by morning new mercies I see” and “new every morning is the love.”  These phrases carry so much emotional power for me.

They remind me that ours is a God of new starts, second chances, the God who raised Jesus from the dead. And you don’t have to have a disability to benefit from thinking about your “new normal.” The everyday bumps and shocks of life set us all back at times, and the aging process will in time diminish our capabilities. But this God of the new is never done with us, even in the face of death.

It occurs to me that “new normal” is a useful way to think about what happens after the pandemic. Many are eager to go “back to normal.” But there is no going back to the status quo ante.

Recall when the prophets like Jeremiah spoke of “restoring the fortunes” of Israel it didn’t mean going back to the way it was. It meant creating something new, something better, something more just, and fair and kind. It meant seeking something closer to God’s intention for his people and world

The upheavals in our society, the protests against police brutality, the cries for justice, and the revealing of the inequalities and inequities in our society call for more than a return to the way things were. The twin viruses of Covid-19 and racism share a trait: they are powerless without a host. These viruses invite us to imagine not a return to business as usual, but to a new way to be a society, a new way to be church, a new way to be a person of faith.

Let us imagine what our “new normal” might look like.

Prayer

God of the Exodus and the Resurrection help us to see and know the new things you are doing in us and in the world around us. Keep us from discouragement about the things we can longer do, and let us be grateful for the things we can. Open our imaginations to what new things we might do.

(Photo: RL Floyd, 2020)

A New Cocktail: The “Berkshire Quarantine”

Here’s a first for my blog, a cocktail. This was invented just now by my son Andrew, who is telecommuting in my downstairs. Serves two.

Mix in a shaker:

3 Shots Southern Comfort

1 Shot rye whisky

1 Shot sweet vermouth

1 Shot Bartlett’s Orchards apple cider

1 dash of orange bitters

Garnish with a cinnamon stick and an orange twist

Serve on the rocks or straight up!

Rick’s Baked Ziti with Meat Sauce

Since so many of you liked my humble Chicken Noodle Casserole here’s another oldie but goodie comfort food recipe. If you have the time (and who doesn’t these days) make your best meat sauce. Or, as per this recipe, brown some ground beef and/or Italian sausage, put it in some good jarred sauce, add some cheese, and Roberto is your uncle.

Ingredients

1 lb. Ziti (or Penne)

1 lb. ground beef (or bulk Italian sausage, or a mixture of the two)

½ cup sturdy red wine

2 jars of good spaghetti sauce (I like Rao’s or Emeril’s)

1 teaspoon of oregano

2 8 oz. packages of whole milk mozzarella

2 cups sour cream (or ricotta cheese)

½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Recipe

Boil  plentiful water for pasta while you brown the ground beef over medium high heat. Cook the pasta for about 8 minutes, drain and add a little olive oil to keep it from sticking together.

When the ground beef has no pink in it, add the wine and let it boil down for a few minutes. Add the jars of sauce, add the oregano, and let it all cook down for at least 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 f.

Grease a standard baking pan with olive oil or Pam. Put about a cup of the sauce in the baking dish and spread it evenly. Add half the pasta, the sour cream spread evenly, and one package of the cheese. Add the other half of the pasta, half of the remaining cheese, and the rest of the sauce. Finally, cover with the remaining cheese package and the Parmigiano.

Cook uncovered for about 30 minutes, or until it is bubbling and the cheese on top begins to brown.

Serve with a salad (or frozen green beans, as we did) and a sturdy red wine.

(Photo: R.L. Floyd, 2020)

 

 

 

Rick’s Pandemic Chicken Noodle Casserole

Since Price Chopper cancelled my pick-up order, I have turned to my pantry to feed the six of us (a couple of my grandchildren and their parents are quarantining with us.) You know those cans of chicken breast you bought at Costco or BJ’s in case you wanted to make chicken salad or there was a pandemic, now is their time to shine.

This is a one dish casserole that many people (my wife included) had so much as a child that she can’t bear to look at it. I kinda like it. It’s not the typical recipe I put up here, but everything is different now.

Ingredients

1 lb. egg noodles or other pasta

2 12.5 cans of of chicken breast in water (or leftover cooked chicken)

1 can Campbell’s cream of chicken soup (yes, I know, stay with me here)

1 can Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup

1 package of frozen peas, thawed more or less

2 cups of cheese (cheddar or whatever you’ve got)

1 cup of Mayonnaise

Bread crumbs (or Panko or crumble crackers for topping)

1 stick of melted butter to put on top of the crumbs

Recipe

Boil water for the noodles. Preheat the oven to 350 f.

In a large bowl put the two soups, mayo, peas, cheeses. Stir to mix.

Drain the pasta, and mix it in the bowl.

Butter a baking dish and put  the whole smear in it.

Cover with the crumbs. Pour the melted butter over it.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until it is bubbling and the top is browned and crispy.

Let it cool for a few minutes.

Serve with your favorite box wine, red or white. I suggest red.

Stay safe, wash your hands. God bless you.

 

 

“Across the Bridge” A Personal Reflection

We will come to the bridge in my title in due time, but it is a later piece of the story I want to tell tonight, so I will begin with an important book I read last summer while I was filling in as a guest preacher for my daughter during her maternity leave. Continue reading

Spicy Stir-Fried Chicken with Mushrooms and Broccoli

We have an Asian dish at least once a week in our rotation. My wife loves mushrooms and broccoli, so this easy chicken stir-fry is always a hit.

Ingredients

1 Lb boneless skinless chicken breast, sliced (You could also use boneless, skinless thighs)

8 ounces white button mushrooms, stems removed. Cut any big ones in half

2 tablespoons  peanut oil

A good sized broccoli crown cut into florets

Sauce

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1/2 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 cup oyster sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1/2 cup chicken or beef broth (or water if you don’t have broth on hand)

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon dark sesame oil

1  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Garnish

Sesame seeds (you can toast them if you want to get fancy)

Two chopped scallions

Recipe

Put the sauce ingredients in a medium bowl, whisk to combine.

Add the sliced chicken to the bowl with the sauce and let it marinate for at least a half hour in the fridge. (Pro tip: put the chicken in the freezer for half an hour before to firm it up before slicing. It makes it easier to get nice slices.)

Put a wok or skillet over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of peanut oil. When the oil shimmers add the broccoli. Stir-fry for about five minutes, adjusting the heat so it doesn’t burn. Put the broccoli on a plate.

Put another tablespoon of peanut oil in the wok, and when the oil shimmers add the mushrooms and stir-fry until they give up their liquid and are nicely browned, about three or four minutes. Put them on another plate.

Add the chicken and the sauce to the wok over high heat.  Stir-fry for about five or six minutes, then add the mushrooms and stir to coat them with sauce. Then add the broccoli and stir to cover with sauce for a minute or two. Pour it all into a warm serving dish and garnish with sesame seeds and scallions. Serve over rice.

(Photo by R.L. Floyd, 2020)

“A Different Story; a Better Way” A Sermon on Matthew 4: 12-23

Over the years I have preached a number of Epiphany sermons here, as Brent often takes time away during the season. One particularly memorable one was three years ago. It was the conjunction of three significant events: the inauguration of a new president, Martin Luther King Day and the first Woman’s March. My sermon was called “Looking for Light in the Shadow of Death.” I worked hard on it, and indeed, I still think it was one of the best sermons I ever wrote. Sadly, it is not the best sermon I ever gave, because some of you will recall the plumbing failed us that morning, and the toilets weren’t working, so we abbreviated the service and sent everybody home. There’s a parable in there somewhere, although I’m not sure what it is.

So here I am, and here we are, three years later with the same text: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in the shadow of death, on them has light shined.” Continue reading